It should be a crime to give away plot spoilers at the height of a book, film or series’ popularity. The tweets and posts in your newsfeed exclaiming shock at the death of so-and-so in one of the Game of Thrones factions, or the cruel bastards ruining it for the queuing Harry Potter fans upon the final book’s release are akin to the same people spoiling World Cup matches and prizefights with a vowel-less score update for those waiting to watch on repeat. Probably.
No spoilers here, but without a doubt George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Fire and Ice,’ for many will break the mould you’re used to when it comes to main characters unexpectedly taken from us. Speaking of Harry Potter, it was just the other day that J.K. apologised for the untimely death of Fred Weasley. (It doesn’t count as our spoiler as she tweeted it first.) Anyway, from one episode to the next, it’s difficult to blame people for their shock at the deaths of the main characters of Game of Thrones. This, in part, is because as readers and viewers we take the lifespan of our favourite protagonists for granted. It still bothers me when it’s pointed out how old Holden Caulfield would be by now, or that one of the Lost Boys could have aged as in Spielberg’s depiction of Tootles having lost his marbles in Hook. One would like them to remain evergreen, living beyond the page, preserved like Kurt Cobain and James Dean.
It is mostly a given that a main character will make it until at least the climax of a novel, or that their death is anticipated in some way. Maybe it is a matter of the majority of commercial storytelling following a formula that we are now too used to. So it is without surprise that Game of Thrones is compulsive viewing and the seemingly random, unexpected death of a main character is news-worthy, post and tweet-worthy, with best selling authors now apologising publicly for the deaths of fans’ beloved characters.
Whereas that sucks for actors thinking they’re the lead in these film and TV productions, only to be literally axed to everyone’s surprised, for viewers and readers vicariously relishing in the bloodshed, perhaps it is time you turned to Pulitzer prize winner, Larry McMurtry.
Lonesome Dove is the epic, quintessential saga of the wild west. It follows the historic unfolding of Texas Rangers Call and Gus as they, along with their gradually shrinking team of cowboys and rough necks, drive a huge stock of cattle from the small – almost insignificant – and shadeless town of Lonesome Dove in Rio Grande all the way to the frontier of Montana to make a new home in the late 1800s. Just as the pending wars of Game of Thrones (if that’s the comparison we’re going with) develops into a network of side plots and narratives, so too the former Texas Rangers’ journey unfolds an offspring of characters’ tales. With each encounter along Gus and Call’s road, a stranger broadens the scope of the novel as they pick up the torch as protagonist for their part, passing it on in turn to another met on their adventures, until – being the small world it is – we rejoin Gus and Call as the violence and depravity of their former Ranger days rears its monosyllabic, cold self with whores and gun-fights and impoverished, maniacal Indians galore.
Seems like this is the point where we tell you how your beloved XXXX dies or your favourite, XXXX, is XXX in the XXXX with a XXXXX. But we’re trying to get followers and likes on social media and we’re trying to fit in like the new farting kid at school. So, let’s at least set it up and you can go find out for yourself. If Augustus “Gus” McCrae isn’t your favourite character since Atticus Finch, just leave now. His dry wit and apparent indifference to the inevitability of death, not to mention his penchant for writing signs, make him as followable a leader along straight man, Captain Call, that you cross those plains listening to them bicker between gun fights like time hasn’t passed at all. Throw into the mix the charismatic and charming waif, Jake Spoon, the uncanny pistolero, whose travels add a damsel in distress or two into the wide-spreading history, and you’ll love them and fear who might not make it as Blue Frog, one of our top ten all time cold-blooded, bad guys enters the mix.
All sounding a bit John Wayne? It’s not. At the heart of each tale, and ultimately the entire history is the depths and unique strength of character of the female protagonists whose minor hopes of a new day are the snowflake that causes the avalanche.
Sounds bloody perfect, don’t it? What with all the adventures and lovable characters and the twist and encapturing event per page. Well, you got the bloody part right, because George R.R. Martin prescribes to the same school of killing off your favourite characters as mastered by McMurtry in Lonesome Dove.
If the engrossing 900 + pages of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove still leaves you wanting more, don’t worry, because he wrote a string of prequels. Other notable works you’ll have heard of by McMurtry are Terms of Endearment and the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.
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